Wednesday May 9, 2012

Happy campers in a light-industrial complex straddling Lenox Dale and Lee are crediting state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli for intervening on their behalf so they could acquire high-speed Internet service from Time Warner Cable in an area unserved by broadband access.

Several firms in the complex along the Housatonic River and the Housatonic Railroad Co. tracks were considering relocating because their ability to do business was hampered by slower Internet speeds.

Eventually, the businesses worked out, with the Lenox Democrat's help, an affordable contract with Time Warner -- which initially sought an $18,000 construction and installation fee because of the industrial site's location on Valley Street in Lee, just across the river and railroad tracks from Crystal Street in Lenox Dale.

"There are still large pockets without broadband capabilites," said Pignatelli from Boston on Tuesday. "Here was something right in the heart of the Lenox Dale industrial zone that didn't have it at a economical price.

"Broadband is another tool of economic development that we need to continue to invest in and make as reasonably priced as possible."

Classical Tents and Party Goods was considering moving because its Hughesnet satellite contract was expiring and an expensive upgrade would have been needed, said Operations Manager Trevor Hotchkin.

"We did our homework," said Hotchkin, working with Paul LeBlanc, owner of Zogics, adjacent to Classical Tents. Zogics manufactures and distributes cleaning and disinfectant products for the fitness and health care market.

According to Hotchkin, "we talked Time Warner down from $18,000 for infrastructure and construction costs to $4,500." Then, after additional research, they convinced the cable provider to come down to zero.

"We had been told the fee would be outrageous, and we got the runaround for years," said Katherine "Kat" Lockridge, co-owner of Classical Tents and president of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce.

She said the effort coordinated with Pignatelli "convinced Time Warner there was enough demand in Lenox Dale to warrant installation of high-speed Business Class Internet service."

According to Lockridge, the arrival of high-speed Internet is "directly responsible for retaining two to five businesses in the Dale which were not going to renew their leases because the lack of service severely impacted their ability to do necessary work."

Given the vacancy rate for commercial space in the industrial zone, Lockridge anticipated the arrival of broadband "should serve as an additional enticement to new businesses." Zogics, right across the town line and the river at 10 Valley Street in Lee, is awaiting the hookup to Time Warner within 60 days, said LeBlanc.

"In this day and age, most businesses rely on adequate Internet accessibility to interact with customers, facilitate orders or for research," he said.

He also credited LB Corp., a general contractor which owns the industrial complex, for "stepping up as a number of parties worked together to convince Time Warner that they would have willing customers. Having access to that service helps all of our businesses."

LeBlanc, who is adding staff and remaining at the site, said he could not be expanding without resolution of the broadband issue.